Source AP ©

Three militants killed by U.S. troops in Sadr City

Three militants were killed during U.S.-led forces’ raid in the Baghdad neighborhood of Sadr City early Thursday as they tried to break up a cell accused of smuggling weapons from Iran to fight U.S. forces, the military said.

The raid was part of the military's 12-week-old Baghdad security plan, meant to tackle the Sunni-led insurgents and Shiite militias and bring order to the violence-wracked Iraqi capital.

Just after midnight, a joint U.S.-Iraqi force on a raid in the southern part of the Shiite slum of Sadr City, came under fire from two buildings, the military said in a statement. After a gunbattle, the soldiers called in an airstrike that killed three armed insurgents, it said.

The force was searching for a cell suspected of smuggling weapons, including the devastating explosively formed penetrators, from Iran, the military said. The group was also accused of sending militants to Iran for training, the military said. The force detained four of the suspected militants during the raid, the military said.

U.S. military officials have said for months that Iran was giving aid to Shiite militias, which are blamed for much of the sectarian violence in Iraq.

Iraqi police and medical officials said the airstrike damaged three houses and killed eight civilians and wounded nine others. The reason for the discrepancy in the two accounts was not immediately clear. The police and medical officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media.

Local officials also said an American tank smashed a mourning tent that had been erected to hold bereaved guests of a recently deceased resident, injuring three people who were sleeping inside.

Footage from AP Television News showed a collapsed tent, with its metal support posts bent and the plastic chairs inside splintered. The military did not comment on the incident.

In other violence, two gunmen on a motorcycle killed an Iraqi military intelligence officer as he drove through Diwaniyah, 130 kilometers (80 miles) south of Baghdad.

Iraqi police also discovered two bodies - bound, blindfolded and shot - floating in a river in Mahaweel, 56 kilometers (35 miles) south of Baghdad. Two other bodies of police officers, one of them a colonel, were found in Mosul, 360 kilometers (225 miles) northwest of Baghdad, police said.

The violence came a day after a suicide truck bomber devastated the security headquarters of Irbil, the capital of the Kurdish self-governing region, killing at least 15 people and wounding more than 100.

The attack, on one of Iraq's most peaceful cities, showed that no corner of the country was immune from violence. The victims of the attack were among 72 people killed or found dead nationwide on Wednesday.

The Islamic State of Iraq, an al-Qaida front group, claimed responsibility for the Irbil blast, saying it was in retaliation for the Kurdish regional government's decision to send Kurdish troops to Baghdad to take part in the security crackdown.

The claim, posted on an Islamic extremist Web site, could not be verified. If true, it would be the first known attack by the Islamic State so far north. Most of the group's operations have been in Baghdad and the provinces of Anbar and Diyala.

The explosion in Irbil, a mountainous city of 1.5 million people about 350 kilometers (215 miles) north of Baghdad, blew out all the windows of the three-story Interior Ministry building and left piles of rubble and twisted metal beams.

Kurdish lawmaker Mahmoud Othman blamed the attack on Ansar al-Sunnah, a Sunni Arab insurgent group, and Ansar al-Islam, a mostly Kurdish militant group with ties to al-Qaida in Iraq. Ansar al-Sunnah claimed responsibility for the last major attack in Irbil - the Feb. 1, 2004 twin suicide blasts at two Kurdish political party receptions that claimed 109 lives.

Othman said authorities had been expecting a major attack somewhere in the Kurdish region since police broke up a militant cell last week in the town of Sulaimaniyah.

"During questioning they confessed they were getting training lessons in a neighboring country and that was Iran," he said.

U.S. military officials have raised recent concerns that in addition to Shiite groups, Iran is helping selected Sunni insurgent groups fighting American forces in Iraq. Maj. Gen. William Caldwell said Wednesday that the military had credible intelligence to support the allegation but did not elaborate. He said the support to Sunni insurgents was limited to select groups, which he did not identify.

Most Sunni insurgent groups are strongly anti-Iranian, blaming the Shiite-dominated Iraqi government for helping Iran expand its influence here.

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